Monday, October 8, 2012
A Hangover from the Hook-Up Culture
Katie at NFP and Me wrote a really great post on whether or not couples should be chastely sleeping together during dating and courtship. She cautioned couples on the dangers of it, writing frankly, “Cuddling next to your smoking hot boyfriend who thinks you are just as smoking hot doesn't sound like the most prudent choice, even if you say you're sure nothing will happen.” Agreed!
As Catholics, our methods of dating should look different from the world's way of dating. We know that the purpose of dating is to discern whether or not we're called to marriage with that person; and we know that modesty, intimacy, and vulnerability are to be cherished and guarded until the appropriate time – marriage. Our ways are different than the world's. This leads me to three additional concerns about chastely sleeping together, which Katie previously did not bring up: guidelines; scandal and example; and intimacy and Theology of the Body.
What are the guidelines unmarried Catholics use to discern when it's appropriate to sleep chastely in the same bed together? I haven't heard many; just that if the the couple is chaste, sleeping in bed together is okay. Most people date a few times before finding the person they are called to marry, so by this very simple guideline, a practicing Catholic will have shared the same bed with a couple of boyfriends or girlfriends before entering the Sacrament of Marriage. This practice became acceptable only after the “Sexual Revolution,” when the sanctity of the marital act and the marital bed were disregarded. The fruit of the “Sexual Revolution” is rotten. Chastely sleeping together before marriage seems to be a hangover from it and an extension of the hook-up culture: it's not sex, so it's not a sin; but it's not an idea rooted in chastity and prudence, either.
When our dating methods don't conform to the world's expectations, people take notice of our example. Instead, sharing a bed when unmarried introduces scandal. As a member of the body of Christ, we have a duty to bring the light of Christ to the world; chastely sleeping together confuses others and dims that light. What is the point of sleeping together? How does it glorify God? How does it encourage others, and ourselves, to live and date chastely? Will it strengthen our resolve and desire to be chaste or lessen it? Does it further our mission or detract from it? Our friends and family are thirsting to witness authentic Catholicism. When we share a bed, alone, in the dark of the night, they have reason to question whether we are actually being chaste or if we're just pulling the wool over their eyes, hypocritically spouting words that we deny with our actions. This is a problem.
In the Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II asserts that the body, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible (TOB 19:4). Even without the marital act, sharing a bed is an outward sign of a physical and spiritual union which is only possible within the bonds of marriage.* While you are sleeping, you're totally vulnerable and open, natural boundaries are erased, and the bonds of intimacy are being built. Would most unmarried couples feel comfortable sharing a bed when visiting parents? I don't believe so; there is an element of shame that pops up - shame which is a “form of self-defense for the person against the danger of...being pushed into the position of an object for use” (Love & Responsibility). If we are worried that our parents would wonder if we are being used or are using someone, that is a sign the action is not intended for us at that time.
Living as a Catholic today, and especially dating as a Catholic, is not easy. Chastity can be a struggle. Sleeping alone, night after night, year after year, can be lonely. We crave alone time and intimacy with our beloved. Ending a date early so you can go home can be emotionally painful. There are many things the world pressures us to disregard and devalue in order to experience more immediate pleasures and comforts. In Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II wrote, "those who live 'by the flesh' experience God's law as a burden and indeed as a...restriction of their own freedom. On the other hand, those who are impelled by love...feel an interior urge...not to stop at the minimum demands of the Law, but to live them in their 'fullness'" (18).
We must remain confident that Our Lord calls us to live beyond the minimum demands of the Law, beyond the black and white sin/not sin, to embrace the fullness of chastity because it is best for us and for the other person, so we can experience true freedom and true love. Instead of drinking at the table of the hook-up culture, let's choose the actions that enrich us and encourage others!
*Thanks to Palaminko for the excellent phrasing.